It is one of the most well-worn phrases in the English language: 'If in doubt, see your GP.'
My door is always open to those in need of healthcare. But how and why did it become acceptable to encourage the public to use a family doctor’s time to help injury solicitors make money, ease the pressure on schools to hit draconian attendance targets, prop-up government get-tough campaigns on disability and be the agent to tackle unscrupulous landlords and heavy-handed employers?
In its quest to solve problems with a quick fix knee-jerk, the government and society has put the boot into overburdened GPs – by buck-passing and turning family doctors into admin-churning machines.
No wonder we struggle to find the hours to actually tend the sick.
An example of this is the government’s ill-conceived reorganisation of disability benefits, designed to save the taxpayer money. In its The Benefits System: a short guide for GPs, the Department of Work and Pensions paints a picture of the simple actions family doctors need to take to support their patients when making a claim.
Personal Independence Payment (PIP) now relies on a points system and given that charities are arguing that almost 500,000 people could lose entitlement, GPs can expect a deluge of enquiries from the likes of Atos Healthcare or Capita Health and Wellbeing to mediate in disputes.
Blame culture and a failure to regulate personal injury specialists has seen Britain become the whiplash capital of Europe with 2.7 claims for damages for every road traffic accident reported. The no-win no-fee business is booming and (whether they pay for a GP’s services or not) personal injury solicitors are becoming an increasing burden on surgeries and other healthcare professionals as they seek burden of proof.
As care professionals we want to play our part in eradicating the environmental problems that can impinge on our patient’s health. Case studies abound on how families have suffered conditions such as COPD because of damp and mould; and I have been asked on many occasions to help patients with re-housing. These situations should never have been allowed to develop in the first place and better initial communication between housing associations and social care providers would help.
My heart also goes out to employees suffering stress and needing proof for tribunals; or to those being pressurised (illegally) to present sick notes after a couple of days of absence from work. The systematic erosion of employment law and trades union rights have caused these problems to occur and with no one else to turn to, the public turns to their GP.
GP sick notes
Amazingly some schools are now asking for GP sick notes. Charities are also advocating turning to your doctor to prove cases of bullying – encouraging parents to get a letter to back up their claims of symptoms such as anxiety - when they would be better advocating properly funded peer mentoring and counselling services.
Recent research showed that the number of people having to wait at least a week to see their GP rose by 500,000 last year. There are a myriad of reasons for this, not least our aging population and the failure of government to recruit and retain general practitioners.
But it is also time that government, businesses and individuals stood up to the plate and realised that family doctors are here to heal the sick – not cure all of society’s ills with yet another consultation or letter.
- Dr Zahid Chauhan is a GP at the Medlock Medical Practice in Failsworth, Greater Manchester, and Labour councillor for Oldham Council's Alexandra Ward. He is also a non-executive director for BARDOC (Bury and Rochdale Doctors out-of-hours service) and NWAS (North West Ambulance Service)